Lawyers Still Can't Smoke Pot
Local Attorneys Ask for Changes to Ethics Rules
In the 1976 anthem "Legalize It," Peter Tosh sings this phrase: "Judges smoke it/Even the lawyer too/Legalize it."
But even though we legalized it last fall, lawyers are still out of luck.
Last week, the King County Bar Association asked the Washington State Supreme Court to let attorneys use marijuana without punishment and to advise pot businesses that may violate federal law.
State rules disallow attorneys from committing a "criminal act," and despite voters passing Initiative 502, cannabis remains illegal federally—even the smallest puff crosses that federal line. The KCBA proposal would add language clarifying that attorneys do not violate state ethics rules if their federal transgressions are specifically permitted under state law.
"KCBA remains greatly concerned that over 14,000 attorneys in King County, as well as all attorneys in our state, are caught in a 'catch-22' situation without changes to our state's Rules of Professional Responsibility," wrote KCBA president Anne Daly. The proposal asks for a speedy judgment on the matter, noting that the state is less than two months away from implementing legal pot rules, while attorneys have no clear guidance on the matter.
The Washington State Bar Association is also considering the issue, but in July declined an invitation to join a work group, saying it would refer the issue to an ethics committee meeting next week. But the county bar didn't want to wait—Daly says the Supreme Court's Rules Committee meets later this month and change requests must be filed by October 15—so they proceeded on their own.
Earlier this year, KCBA filed a similar proposal with the American Bar Association, but withdrew the motion when the state bar refused to support it. "We did not believe that was the appropriate venue," says state bar spokeswoman Debra Carnes. She says WSBA has a unique role as a regulatory agency.
At next week's ethics meeting, the state bar will decide whether to work on an advisory opinion on the pot topic. And if the Supreme Court publishes KCBA's proposed rule for public comment, Carnes says, "That's when we would weigh in, review, and comment."